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Full text of "My Country And My People"

LITERARY    LIFE

time, it had its laws of structure and a store of idioms which
accumulated by literary accidents from the works of different
dynasties. Thus it came to have an independent reality of its
own, subject more or less to literary fashions.

As time went on, this discrepancy between the literary
language and the living language of the age became greater
and greater, until to-day the study of the ancient language is,
in point of psychological difficulties involved, exactly similar to
the learning of a foreign tongue for the Chinese people. The
laws of ordinary sentence-structure differ between the literary
and the spoken language, so that one cannot write in the
ancient language by merely substituting certain ancient words
for the modern words. A simple phrase like three ounces silver
should be syntactically changed into silver three ounces^ and
whereas the modern Chinese say / never saw (it}9 the ancient
idiom requires the construction / never it saw, the accusative
object being regularly placed before the verb in the case of
negative verbs. Modern Chinese schoolboys are therefore apt
to commit the same idiomatic blunders as when English school-
boys say je vois vous in learning French. Just as in learning a
foreign language a very extensive acquaintance with that
language is necessary before one can really master the ordinary
idioms, so in the practice of writing ancient Chinese, years of
oral repetition and reading of masterpieces (minimum ten
years) are required before one can write fairly presentable
ancient Chinese. And just as very few people succeed in really
mastering a foreign language^ so in reality very few Chinese
scholars succeed in writing really idiomatic ancient Chinese.
Actually, there are only three or four Chinese to-day who can
write "idiomatic" Chinese of the classic Chou Dynasty. Most
of us have to put up with that bookish sort of language which
foreigners command easily enough, but which lacks the true
flavour of the mother tongue.

The use of the Chinese characters made this development
possible* Moreover, the independence of character from sound
greatly accelerated its monosyllabic quality. Actually, bi-
syllabic words in the spoken language can be represented by a
monosyllabic character, because the character itself by its
composition makes the meaning already quite clear. Thus, in